Sunday, 31 January 2016

traditional food

Rather late in the day, I have discovered overnight Aga porridge.  You mix your oats and water the night before, as if making normal porridge, and once it has come to the boil you give it a final stir and put it in the warming oven.  And leave, overnight.  In the morning you have porridge.  It's as simple as that.  I don't know why I thought it wouldn't be, but I think I vaguely suspected it would be lumpy, or that the top half of the pan's contents would have turned to a horrible skin.  The only drawback is that by the stage of the evening when you are tired and would like to go to bed, going into the kitchen instead and making porridge takes an effort.  Maybe I could start it off earlier in the day.  Overnight and evening Aga porridge?

I made pease pudding the other day for the first time.  We had some once with gammon as part of a pub meal somewhere in the north of England, and I resolved to try it at home.  I even got as far as buying a bag of split dried green peas, which sat in the kitchen cupboard for a long time.  Finally I got round to making the pudding.  The internet is full of pease pudding theories, all variants on mixing boiled dried peas with butter and eggs and boiling them.  I went with my ancient Good Housekeepers cookery book, except that I wimped out of boiling my pudding in a floured cloth and simply used a buttered pudding basin.

You boil the peas until they are soft.  I soaked mine overnight, before reading the instruction on the packet that said No need to soak overnight.  Dried peas must have got softer since the 1970s.  The peas took longer to cook than the fifty minutes it said on the packet, despite the soaking and still being in date.  The next step was to press the cooked peas through a sieve, at which point I discovered they weren't entirely done.  Most of them went through in the end, and I felt glad I was not a thirteen year old Edwardian kitchen maid trying to do the same thing with raw mushrooms and a horse hair sieve.  I mixed the pea puree with melted butter and an egg, seasoned it with pepper and a pork stock cube because I didn't have any suitable bacon bits, pressed it into the basin, and boiled it some more.

The Systems Administrator eyed up the cooked pudding suspiciously and asked 'What's that?'.  I replied that it was pease pudding.  The SA took the amount that one takes of something in order to be polite, and after the first mouthful announced 'I like the pudding'.  I thought the pork stock cube was too dominant and made a mental note to get some bacon next time and fry a chopped rasher to flavour the pudding, not to mention substituting the rest of the bacon for the gammon steaks we had with the pudding.  I bought the steaks because I was too mean to invest in an entire joint, and the packet promised the pigs had been bedded on straw in airy barns, but they exuded white stuff during cooking and tasted too much like dead pig.

I had the rest of the pudding reheated for lunch while the SA was out, along with some Nigel Slater roast cabbage.  (Roasting white cabbage with olive oil, lemon and parmesan works surprisingly well, but I don't think I'd bother with the cheese sauce next time).  So we have had pease pudding hot, but not yet cold or nine days old.  I have put split dried green peas on the shopping list so that I can make it again.  It's a very old idea, pease pudding, and I feel I am part of the English food tradition eating it.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

housework, indoor and out

The housework caught up with me.  I like cooking, and don't mind ironing because I can listen to music while I do it, but dragging a vacuum cleaner around and wiping the kitchen units barely ranks above a trip to the dental hygienist.  But the accumulation of cat fluff, Christmas tree needles and strands of Strulch on the floor were getting too much to ignore, not to mention the nameless brown streaks that might have been gravy or coffee grounds, or good honest earth off my wellington boots, but might have been something to do with the short indignant tabby, whose bowel control can be a bit iffy.

Vacuum cleaners have become real prima donnas.  In the good old days you kept going until you eventually noticed that the bag was full to bursting because the machine began not to suck very well.  Now they have sensors that halt the proceedings each time things are not exactly to their liking.  Faced with the onslaught of fur, twigs and gravel that collect on our floors things are very frequently not to the vacuum cleaner's liking.  The motor cuts back to a sullen whine, and a red flashing light comes on.  You have to open the top and empty its little plastic bucket, which is generally enough to get it going again, though the catch of the lid is very plasticky and I'm always afraid of snapping it.  Today the engine kept cutting out repeatedly.  I stared hopefully at the filter in the middle of the plastic bucket, willing it to show me how it worked, and tried to remember how to remove it so that I could bash some of the dust out.  The Systems Administrator was out, so there was nobody to ask, but I've a feeling that one of the SA's tricks is to give the filter a blast of air from the compressor.

After I'd vacuumed the kitchen, and the hall, and the study, and the sitting room, and the stairs (the prima donna does not like stairs and sometimes cuts out when stood on end, which is the only way to reach the middle steps), and the upstairs corridor, and the bedroom, I put the vacuum cleaner away and hoped I would not have to see it again for a bit.  Then I realised I had forgotten to do the downstairs cloakroom, but could not face getting it out again until the SA had sorted out its filters.

Joan Bakewell, who does not like gardening, has dismissed weeding as outdoor housework, but honestly I would rather weed than vacuum any day of the week.  Well, weather permitting, and she probably does not like indoor housework either.  I thought I could finish off weeding around the oil tank while listening to the film review programme podcast, but as is so often the way it turned out to be a longer task than it looked.  Having to crawl among the hellebores while not kneeling on any of them or breaking off the emerging flower stems certainly slowed me down, but also a quite amazing number of buckets of weeds and dead flower stalks came off for a bed that didn't look that weedy to start with.  I have been meaning to put Strulch down for the past couple of seasons, to cut down on the weeding, and it could do with some manure as well.  The hellebores would really appreciate that.

Friday, 29 January 2016

bramble bashing

I spent the day chopping bramble and nettle roots from the edges of the meadow with a pick axe, and I am rather stiff.  I fear I am not so fit as I was.  It is not as though it was a very long day, because I made quite a leisurely start, and by half past four it was getting too dark to be messing around with bramble stems, what I have learnt to think of as Poking in the eye time, and I didn't even spend the whole time pick axing.  I spent a hunk of it snipping through bramble stems with secateurs and picking up stones to go on the path by the dustbins.  Looking on the bright side, I did not poke myself in the eye.

There's a lot of room behind the wildlife pond, much more than I imagined when it was covered by a solid stand of white stemmed ornamental brambles.  There is a little Cornus mas, rather misshapen since a large tree branch fell on it and broke the top out, but I'm sure I can train it up again.  It is currently studded with little yellow flowers and is rather sweet.  Next to it, probably too close, is a Heptacodium minonioides, the Seven Son Flower of Zhejiang.  It has scented white flowers in autumn, and is recent enough into western cultivation not to be included in the original volumes of the shrub bible Bean.

There are still plenty of clumps of the evil white bramble, as well as lots of the ordinary sort.  The white one has started growing into the wood.  I don't suppose it could get very far before the conditions became too dark for it, but I don't want to leave it there as a reservoir to reinfest the meadow, so am having to climb over the rabbit fence and chop it out.  There is not very much room to swing the pick axe, and at one point I managed to bang myself on the leg.  Clearing brambles as a task is prone to mission creep.  Originally I was only going to clear the meadow, but as I looked at a particularly huge and rampant wild native bramble that had hoisted itself twenty feet into a hawthorn on the other side of the wire I realised I couldn't just leave it there.  It would not stay in its existing tree, but would come inexorably ramping through the fallen oak where, after much fiddling around with its long, whippy branches, I have started to persuade the rambling rose 'Ethel' to grow through the oak instead of heading out along the ground towards the sunlight.

One of the lecturers in garden history and restoration at Writtle used to say austerely that all restoration reflected previous failures of maintenance.  I used to think that was rather harsh. Plants grow old and decrepit and cease to be things of beauty, or succumb to disease, trees grow far larger than the garden's creator ever imagined and cast more shade than planned, foundations sink and brickwork crumbles.  Diligent maintenance can hold off the process of change and decay, but only for so long.

In the case of our meadow, though, I am afraid she was entirely right.  Just over twenty years ago the meadow was a blank canvas, a grubbed out orchard, then it was a straight acre of grass (grazing rye grass, dreadful stuff.  I still rue the day I didn't glyphosate every last blade, or insist the neighbouring tenant farmer who had sowed it without consulting us when he was sowing his part of the field plough it in again).  It did not have stands of twenty foot brambles in it.  It does now because they grew in the intervening period and I didn't dig them out.  As failures of maintenance go it's a pretty dramatic one.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

late pruning job

I pruned the vines today.  Late January is dreadfully late to be doing it, since if you cut them once the sap is rising they bleed horribly.  I could never quite visualise what this meant, and thought it might just denote a sort of nasty oozing, until one year I cut through a branch when the sap was rising and liquid ran out of it in a continuous stream like a running tap.  For this reason it is recommended to finish pruning vines by the New Year, if not Christmas, except that I didn't.  No special reason, just a failure of organisation and lack of time to do everything.

Accordingly I made the first cut today with a degree of trepidation, hoping I hadn't missed my window of opportunity.  The vines are supposed grow along one side of the vegetable patch, though from that vantage point they infiltrate a hedge, two fruit trees, the Systems Administrator's old greenhouse, and the nearest two beds in the vegetable patch.  As it's the time of the year when hope springs eternal and I imagine that I am going to grow vegetables, I needed to corral the vines back into their allotted space.

There was no stream of sap.  I cut a few more thin stems, gingerly, and went back to investigate the first cut in case it had started leaking with a delayed action, but the severed end remained dry. I pressed on, not even clearing away the debris as I worked but cutting every lanky branch that looked as though it needed shortening before the plants could wake up and start bleeding to death from my surgery.

Pruning vines is in theory an elaborate business.  There are Systems.  A few are covered in some of my gardening books, while the vine training page of Wikipedia looks like an elaborate spoof. There's the Guyot system, the Pendelbogen system, the Mosel arch, the Sylvos and variants thereof, the Scott Henry, the Geneva Double Curtain, and many, many more.  I don't follow any of them. The chief purpose of my vines is to screen the rabbit fence around the vegetable patch and look pretty.  Their secondary purpose is to provide vine leaves for cooking, though it's ages since I've made dolmades.  Several years ago I spent a lot of time laboriously thinning the bunches of grapes, and the grapes within the bunches, and still ended up with tiny, pippy fruit tasting only moderately of anything, so nowadays I leave them for the birds and view the vines entirely as foliage plants. Due to early plant losses, replacements, and poor record keeping, I don't even know what variety of grapes they are.

They aren't my favourite subjects to prune, and on the whole I enjoy pruning, though I tend to do it with a light touch and some of my shrubs occupy more space than they might under a more ruthless hand.  The trouble with the vines, apart from my lack of a system, is working out which stems to cut out, especially if I do it at the right time and not a month late.  Stems regularly die, which is not a problem per se because the plants make so much new growth every year, but it can be quite difficult to see which ones are alive and which dead, and it is frustrating to cut out a new growth because it seemed to be in the way, and then discover it was needed to replace an old branch that has surreptitiously died.

Fortunately they are so tough that my inept ministrations are unlikely to kill them.  They root like crazy too, wherever their questing new stems are allowed to touch down for any length of time.  I don't see the point when I read articles in magazines aimed at amateurs telling us how to take vine cuttings, when they will propagate themselves by layering.  Just lay a fat stem down on a little patch of bare earth and chuck a brick on it, and you'll have a rooted new vine in next to no time.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

filed with four days to spare

I have submitted my tax return.  When I'd finished I waited for a Zen feeling of calm contentment to descend on me, as promised by the posters at Colchester railway station showing a woman in a lotus position exuding calmness after successfully completing her tax return, but I did not experience any Zen calm, only the feeling of exasperation produced by a morning of grappling with online passwords, and investment company help desk staff who seemed never to have heard of dividend tax credits or the January 31 deadline for filing tax returns online.  Or know that dividend income counts as income for tax purposes even if you reinvest it.

If I were a cynical person, which of course I am not, I should say that investment management companies deliberately make it as difficult as possible for their clients to log on to their websites or discover anything about their investments because customer inertia is one of the methods they rely on to maintain funds under management.  You are less likely to move your investments if the very thought of checking on them fills you with exhaustion and despondency.  And I would cynically believe that the anti money laundering regulations that require long standing customers with quite modest sums under management to supply certified copies of their passports and utilities bills to prove their identities were mainly designed to give an impression by the banks and financial authorities that they were taking active steps to prevent money laundering.  If I were engaged in money laundering, or funding terrorism, or any other nefarious financial activity, I don't think I'd be doing it by investing in accumulation units in UK index funds and then letting them do nothing else except accumulate for fifteen years.

An honourable exception is first direct.  I know it is customary to criticise UK banks, but honestly I have never found their telephone service anything other than extremely helpful, only I don't need to use it very often because their website is user friendly as well.  They still want certified proof of who I am, though, even though in the fifteen years I've banked with them since being made redundant from the City no large or mysterious deposits have appeared in my account.

Anyway, the tax return is done now, and maybe the Zen calm will descend once I've certified myself to the financial providers demanding proof of who I am.  The Systems Administrator has shown me how to use the printer to scan my passport, so I now know how that function on the printer works which will be handy if I ever need to scan anything else.  And at least I've had some more use out of the passport.  Since we holiday in the UK the only other thing I've used it for is proving my identify to the bank so that I could be the beekeepers' treasurer.  The UK may not officially have identity cards, but if you don't drive (so no driving licence) and don't actually want to go abroad you could still end up paying £72.50 for a passport, just to prove who you are to the financial services industry, or be allowed to collect parcels that have ended up at the depot because you were out when they called.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

raking and weeding

I have raked four or five big builder's buckets of leaves off the back lawns, along with some grass and moss.  It's a sad state of affairs to still be leaf raking in the last week of January, but the little oak tree in the back garden took an age to drop its leaves.  'Tai-haku' went, and then the wild gean, and the double gean rather surreptitiously, but the little oak clung on grimly.  It shed its leaves eventually, but by then it was Christmas, and before I could get round to doing anything about them along came my cold, which you have heard quite enough about by now.

By now quite a few of the oak leaves have blown into the flower beds, and the grass has grown on the daffodil lawn, along with the daffodils, so collecting fallen leaves had become rather a fiddle. Those that have blown right into the middle of the borders and aren't smothering anything small and precious will probably stay there.  But I wanted to tidy up the worst of them as the snowdrops get going, to give them a slightly more groomed and kempt setting.

After dealing with the worst of the more accessible oak leaves I started weeding the bed around the oil tank.  This contains mostly shrubs, but there's a good scattering of hellebores beneath them, which have seeded from my original planting to give quite a dense cover.  The soil is a bit light and mere, and they aren't the bushiest Helleborus x hybridus ever, but their leaves actually remain healthier and less prone to black spotting than the ones in the back garden.  They are just coming into bloom, and would look better when not mixed with the dry stems of last year's hedge garlic and a lot of dead Mahonia leaves.  In an ideal world I'd have done this job before any signs of this year's flowers, to avoid the risk of breaking them, and better still last November as the dead hedge garlic stalks haven't done a lot for the coloured stem dogwoods in that bed either.  But as we know, the world and gardening are frequently not ideal.

The other reason for tackling this corner is that if I want to order bare root rambling roses to go up the trees at the edge of the wood I need to get on and do it, and there is no point in having a bag of bare root plants arrive if none of the planting sites are ready.  I've had this corner ear-marked for ramblers for a couple of years without getting round to doing anything about it, but before I can plant roses or anything else I have to dig out the nettles that have been making themselves at home.  Meanwhile the gigantic stump of a huge multi-stem ash that collapsed spectacularly several years ago has been rotting down, and I feel the time could be right to plant.

A friend gave me a rooted cutting of 'Albertine', which has been sitting in a pot by the greenhouse for some time while I tried to work out where to put it.  Actually, I did move it into a bigger pot to give it something to do, but I'm sure it would rather be in the ground.  I thought 'Albertine' could go up a large holly tree, where it can meet Clematis 'Broughton Star' which I have already set to climb the holly from the other side.  Then for a hawthorn that arches its way over towards the chicken run I'm thinking of something wilder looking and with hips.

Tucked away in that corner of the wood is a young Eucryphia x nymansensis 'Nymansay'.  These make beautiful, fairly narrow, upright, evergreen trees, which in summer are a mass of white flowers that are intensely attractive to bees.  They are supposed to like an organic, woodland type soil and to have their feet in the shade but their heads in the sun, with some protection from cold winds.  I had a great desire to grow one, because they are so lovely and because late summer flowering shrubs are not so thick on the ground.  This corner looked my best bet, since it has actual woodland soil and the Eucryphia would have the protection of other trees from the north wind. However, the ground drops away so steeply at that point that until it grows a few more feet it won't really see the sun, a slightly chicken and egg situation as without the sun it isn't so keen to grow.  I cut down some wild elder last autumn that was shading it, but must make sure it doesn't get smothered if the rose experiment takes off.

Monday, 25 January 2016

two exhibitions

Triumph and relief, I put my new post-cold energies to the test and made it up to London to catch French eighteenth century portrait painter Liotard at the Royal Academy and Dutch seventeenth century Masters of the everyday: Dutch artists in the age of Vermeer at the Queen's Gallery.  The first closes at the end of this month, and the second on the fourteenth of February, and I've been wanting to go since they opened but always seemed to be busy.  I had a day in January pencilled in, given we had no trains between Christmas and the New Year, but didn't intend to run it this close to the wire.  I remember going to the final week of a Turner exhibition at the Tate, and being able to swan in ahead of the queue thanks to my Tate Members card, but it was jolly crowded, and I never saw the last lot of terracotta warriors at the British Museum at all because in the end the whole of the rest of the run was completely sold out.

Happily, Enlightenment French portrait painters who are not household names, and Golden Age Dutch artists when they are mostly not actually Vermeer, don't have the same blockbuster appeal as Turner.  Fine art seems to follow the same pattern as folk music, in that there are a few artists at the very top of the pyramid, Monet, Van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci, or Martin Carthy, Cara Dillon and the late lamented Bellowhead, who are capable of packing out the Royal Academy or the Colchester Arts Centre respectively.  With most of the others you'll probably be safe pitching up on the day.

Both exhibitions were very good in their different ways, and worth seeing before they close if you can.  Liotardo's portraits embody the rational attitudes of the Enlightenment, smoothly finished, elegant and tidy.  His palette is clean and softly bright, his draughtsmanship meticulous, his likenesses acute, stouter and plainer subjects appearing stout and plain rather than everybody being flatteringly tidied into an eighteenth century ideal, but without cruelty or caricature.  He was very, very good at fabrics, so the clothes are superb, but the personalities come through too.  He lived a long and productive life, and achieved critical and commercial acclaim in his lifetime.

The Queen's collection is more of a mixed bunch.  I tended to skip over the large paintings of naval battles, which are hung high on the walls as if the curators knew that most people weren't really there to see them.  Her Majesty's multi-storey blue and white china tulip vases get another outing, and there is some fairly hideous Sevres china with scenes of Dutch taverns amidst the gilt and swags, but the show is mostly of paintings.  As I heard a guide explain, the Royal collection only has one Vermeer, the lady standing at the virginals with a gentleman singing, but I spent a long time looking at it, and ages studying the sole Rembrandt on show (though I know the Royal collection has more than one of those).  And there are lots of serving girls, card players and gentlemen plying ladies with drink.  No seascapes, which was a pity as I like those Dutch paintings of ships scudding across the lumpy waves of the North Sea, but the gallery isn't that big.

The RA and the Queen's Gallery each have their points as exhibition spaces.  The RA today got ten out of ten for lighting.  I wasn't bothered once by reflected glare off the glass of the paintings, whereas in the Queen's Gallery I was left shuffling a foot or two to the left or right several times, trying to find the right place to stand in order to see.  On the other hand, the Sackler Galleries at the top of the RA are only stingily endowed with seats, whereas the Queen's Gallery is generously provided with big padded red benches, on which were multiple copies of the full gallery guide. After I'd been all the way round once I sat down for a good half hour resting my legs and skimming my way through the section on selected paintings out of the exhibition, then went back and looked at them again in the light of what I'd read.  So it is that I know that the Vermeer has not always been venerated as it is now.  No, the figures were too small and too far back, not to mention facing away from us, and how very odd to make a table with a carpet on it the main and dominant feature.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

back in the garden

For the first time in a fortnight I got back into the garden.  The air had lost its raw quality, and my incipient cold seemed to be on the retreat.  An article in today's Observer claims that the human body has evolved to feel depressed and lethargic during the first five to ten days of a viral infection, as a tactic to keep the sufferer lying low and out of harm's way while the acquired immune system cranks up and does its work.  I tend to take all health claims in the papers with a hefty pinch of metaphorical salt (by now I am utterly flummoxed over whether we are supposed to fry things in olive oil or not).  However, I have also tended to dismiss the early signs of colds as 'only a cold', a trivial condition to be over-ridden through willpower, not warranting any change to my plans until things get desperate.  And I have a history of suffering from strings of hideous, persistent and debilitating colds, so maybe yielding to my first instinct to shut down and do nothing is a better idea.  I couldn't entirely do nothing without messing various people around too much, but I did quite a lot of nothing.

One job I finally got done was to pot up the ''Concerto' tulip bulbs that have been sitting in a box in the garage.  The ideal time to plant tulips is said to be November, and late January has to be pushing it quite a lot, but while they were sprouting they still felt firm.  I am more worried about the compost than the bulbs, since when I peeled back the top of my only bag, which has been open since November when I potted up the other tulips, it had dried out a lot.  Peat based compost is notoriously difficult to re-wet, but I left the pots of 'Concerto' to stand in trays of water overnight and hoped for the best.  There was a mouse nest in the bag as well, which I cleared out cautiously with a small shovel in case there was a mouse in it.  There wasn't, and I think it has been electronically zapped by now, but the rest of that compost had probably better go to top dress the dip in the lawn where the drains collapsed, and I'll start again with fresh for the seed sowing season.

I swept through the conservatory as well.  There was a tiny bit of botrytis in there, and the forecast is so mild I have left both doors open tonight, to get the air flowing through.  Botrytis is that grey, fluffy mould that grows on dead leaves and stems, and can spread to attack living ones.  It thrives on cyclamen, salvias, and any dead flowers it can find, and had started to take hold on the tiny stems of a rather weedy little small leaved nasturtium whose name I can never remember, mainly because it has never yet put in a memorable display.  Good air circulation is one of the best defences against botrytis, and if I were not such a cheapskate I would run the electric fan heater in the conservatory more regularly.  The bulbs at Kew get electric fans, lucky things, to keep the air moving in their greenhouses.  The cushions on both conservatory chairs were absolutely filthy due to Black and White Alsatian Killer Cat having lived in there during the mild spell when the doors were constantly open.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

of clubs and societies

This afternoon I went to a gardening talk, by the person who looks after the collection of potted bulbs at Kew Gardens.  She didn't discuss the merits and demerits of any particular species or varieties, so I didn't come home with a notebook full of tantalising new names to try and track down to grow them myself, before discovering that they were either not in commerce, or that Kevock would charge me eighteen pounds for one bulb.  Instead, she took us through the practical details of how Kew protect their bulbs from the weather, potting and repotting, compost mixes, and seed sowing.

Some ideas transferred more readily to the home gardener than others.  I don't think I could lay my hands on a one tonne bag of loam, and I'm not sure I'd get a very helpful response from my local aggregates company if I rang asking for river sand with a mixture of particle sizes.  And I am not about to get a greenhouse with computer controlled supplementary lighting, heated to a minimum of four degrees.  At least I now know how to obtain fine grit, which is to take a bag of medium sized grit and sieve it.

I asked her afterwards about the best way to separate the congested clump of Crinum bulbs I've got in a pot, and discovered that there is no time of year when they don't have roots, but that I could chop the clump apart with a spade or saw it through without killing it.  Brought up on daffodils and tulips with their very definite dormant seasons, I am still adjusting to the idea that some bulbs are active twelve months of the year.  The last pot of Crinum I evicted to the open garden had a full pot of roots when I tipped it out, but I'd thought maybe there was some time of the year when it wouldn't have.  Not so.

The lecture was part of the Suffolk Plant Heritage series, and was well attended.  I didn't do a head count, but there must have been eighty or a hundred people there, including a smattering of under fifties.  It goes to show that people will turn out at weekends if a club is well organised with a good programme.  The unfortunate demise of the Sudbury gardening society even made the news section of the Amateur Gardening Magazine a couple of weeks back, after it ran out of members willing to serve on the committee.  The Chairman had been in post for eighteen years, and taken on additional roles as people died or left.  It was an RHS affiliated society, and an RHS spokesperson was quoted as saying that any loss of opportunities for people to garden was a pity.  What Amateur Gardening did not point out was that at least one of the village garden societies only a few miles outside Sudbury was going from strength to strength, ergo it was not that locals had gone off gardening.  The Boxford club, like Suffolk Plant Heritage, publishes the full year's planned events at the start of the year and gets good quality speakers, and indeed some of the same people are involved in running both groups.

I'd already heard on the local grapevine that the Sudbury club was on the rocks.  What Amateur Gardening and the RHS were both too polite to say is that eighteen years is too long for anybody to be chairman of their garden society, or any other club.  Committee members may start off with entirely good intentions, but long incumbencies breed complacency and an undue sense of ownership that makes it increasingly difficult for anybody else to take a meaningful role on the committee.  It's a depressing spiral I've seen more than once.  People step forward but don't stay in post for long, then positions remain unfilled while the old guard grumble that nowadays nobody will volunteer to help.  Club committees are like gardens, they benefit from regular pruning and feeding.

Friday, 22 January 2016

a wet day

It rained most of the day, and I remained tucked up in front of the Aga reading about Ninfa: The Most Romantic Garden in the World.  What, after all, is the point of having a pile of unread books on the table next to your bed if you don't spend a wet day reading one of them?  I am not sure that when it was with Staffordshire library and information services anybody did read it, since once I got beyond the library stamps the pages were absolutely pristine.

Chiltern Seeds emailed offering a mood boosting twenty per cent off all orders this weekend, as this is 'a time when some of us struggle with January Blues, and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are exacerbated', which seemed to me to be straying into deep waters for a seed company.  I emailed back that having placed my spring 2016 order with them yesterday my mood had not been boosted by finding that I could have had twenty per cent off if I'd waited until tomorrow.  I got an auto reply saying that at this busy time of year they were struggling to deal with the volume of correspondence but were making every effort to respond to all emails as quickly as possible, and could I allow three working days.

Meanwhile, Presto Classical is offering up to forty per cent off all Alfred Brendel recordings, to celebrate his eighty-fifth birthday, which is a tempting thought.  I've had my eye on his piano sonata number 20 in A major, D959 for ages.  And Mr Fothergill's will give me up to twenty per cent off seeds plus a FREE PACKET of tomato seeds.  2016 has been declared the Year of the Tomato, didn't you know.  I didn't.

No wonder they were saying on the Today programme this morning that there was price deflation in goods.  It's enough to make one not want to buy anything unless it's on special offer.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

online plant shopping

Plant catalogues keep dropping through the letterbox, and hopeful emails pop up in my inbox on an almost daily basis.  'Tis the season to buy seeds, and summer flowering bulbs, and Streptocarpus, while one alpine supplier has jumped the gun by already sending out their list of dwarf bulbs for delivery from September.  Broadleigh Bulbs always used to be the first, getting their autumn list out just before the Chelsea Flower Show, though they have announced that they are going the other way to a wholly online presence, and that this summer's printed catalogue will be their last.

I started off hunting for fuchsias online.  Growers won't be sending them out yet, it is still too cold, and if they were I wouldn't want them at this stage.  Thinking about fuchsias was purely an exercise in escapism, a mental leap forward from a cold January day to the warmth of late summer.  Consulting my garden visiting notebook I saw that the small, dark red variety I had greatly liked at Chelsea was called 'Katjan', and checking in my 2015 Chelsea catalogue I saw there had been two fuchsia specialists exhibiting.  Bizarrely, the one of them who showed 'Katjan' did not do mail order.  Why would you go to all the trouble and expense of staging an exhibit in the pavilion at the Chelsea Flower Show and not sell by mail order?  I'm still trying to work that out. Fuchsias are ideal for selling as young rooted cuttings and are easy to post and pack:  if it had been a standard tree I'd set my heart on I'd have understood the problem.

I turned to the website of the other Chelsea fuchsia exhibitor, but then surfing the web for second opinions on some of the varieties they stocked found another fuchsia specialist, with a longer list and cheaper prices, who also stocked 'Katjan' but did not go to the bother of staging Chelsea exhibits for my entertainment.  It seemed mean to abandon both of the suppliers who had piqued my interest in fuchsias in the first place, but such is life.  Customers are mean.  This third website offered the option of compiling a wish list and of comparing plants, only when I placed 'Katjan' in my wishlist and tried to look at it, the site told me I would have to register first.  I obediently typed in my name, address, phone number, and email address in duplicate, but still couldn't view my wishlist until my account had been authorised.  What?  It's not as though I wanted to buy their plants on credit, merely to start composing a list of varieties I might like to buy later with a view to whittling it down to a sensible length.

The website went on insisting that my account needed to be authorised for the next forty-eight hours, then forgot my details and said I'd have to register.  I gave up.  I'll probably be back once the weather warms up enough for them to despatch plants and me to want them, since they had a good list and I do want 'Katjan', but after they had drummed up a potential new customer entirely on the strength of other companies' marketing efforts it seemed stupid not to grab hold of them.

The competitive powers of the internet are tough if you're a grower.  The rose specialist Peter Beales sent me an email reminding me that their offer of free delivery on three or more bare root roses expired at the end of January.  This prompted me to look at their site, since I had been thinking of trying to grow some more ramblers up into the trees at the edge of the wood.  The brambles did so well, I thought maybe I could replace them with roses if I chose from varieties rated suitable for growing in poor soil and those that were relatively shade tolerant.  And I think there's room for one or two more in the back garden, along from 'Paul's Himalayan Musk'.  I tried to grow Rosa banksiae 'Lutea' there, but two cold winters more or less did for it, and anyway I realised that an early yellow rose was likely to overlap with the flowering of a red rhododendron nearby in the wood, and that the combination would not do either of them favours.  Pink or purple roses would be a safer bet, then they could coincide with the rhododendron or 'Paul's Himalayan Musk' as much as they liked.

Alas for Peter Beales.  Searching once again for more information on some of the roses nudging their way towards my shortlist, I stumbled on the website of Trevor White, another Norfolk specialist in old roses.  I knew of the firm at second hand, since he used to supply the plant centre where I used to work until he cut back on wholesale to start building up his own retail business. They were always good quality plants, and I now see on his site that he originally trained with Peter Beales.  His prices were uniformly a third cheaper than his more famous and multiple Chelsea gold medal winning competitor, and he had all bar one of the varieties I'd been thinking about, plus the David Austin bred yellow flowered repeat rambler 'Malvern Hills' that Peter Beales doesn't list.

I have not actually bought any roses yet.  It's always a good idea to wait a few days then reassess the initial list, which is almost always too long after the excitement of reading all those plant descriptions.  Instead I contented myself with a seed order from Chiltern Seeds.  I'd already placed one last week with Derry Watkins at Special Plants and must now be firm with myself and remember that that's enough seeds, Ed..

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

in the winter garden

Nearly two weeks ago I abandoned several green garden buckets, an old compost bag full of hellebore leaves and weeds waiting to go to the dump, and a black plastic flower pot a quarter full of stones at the bottom of the back garden, and the step ladder on the grass path half way down the slope.  I didn't intend to leave them there for so long.  At the time I assumed I'd be back the next day to carry on where I left off, but in the event I had a cold and the weather turned colder, and so they stayed where they were, and I stayed indoors as much as possible.  I could see the compost bag, the pot and one of the buckets from the bathroom window and they irritated me each morning, as being eyesores in their own right and reminders of jobs not done.

It is very easy to get into the habit of leaving stuff lying around the garden.  Back in my Writtle days when I had a summer job with a garden maintenance company, one of the gardens we tended always had a litter of tools scattered across the patio, along with half used bags of compost and hoses not put away.  We dutifully moved the bird bath off the lawn so that we could mow it and then put it back, but it never seemed to occur to them that the cheapest and easiest way they could make their garden look better in about fifteen minutes was simply to clear the mess up.

This morning, as the grass was not frosted and my nose was not running so much, I put the ladder back by the dustbins at the side of the house, pending the moment when I would finish pruning the holly I was anticipating trimming when I got it out in the first place, and emptied the Systems Administrator's latest harvest of sawn firewood out of one of the wheelbarrows so that I could go and collect the buckets and the bag.  The garden immediately looked better for it, though my nose began to stream again and I retreated back inside.

I noticed in passing that the Japanese almond Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori' was studded with little dark pink flowers.  It was a good display, especially considering how terrible the leaves looked last year and the year before.  They suffer badly from attack by some sort of sap sucking insect, which turns them puckered, distorted and alarmingly small.  Each time I notice I am seized with dismay and guilt and wonder if I should have sprayed it, except that I really don't like using insecticides outdoors.  I don't understand why the great tits can't keep the leaves clean like they do for every other bush in the garden, and it makes me wonder if whatever bug is spoiling the apricot even lives out in the open, or burrows around inside the leaves.  In the late summer the bottom half of the tree is engulfed in a tide of perennial sweet pea, so one way and another it's a pleasant surprise to find that it is alive and flowering, even the lower branches.

I also noticed that its stake had rotted at the base so that it was being supported by the tree rather than the other way round.  Maybe 'Beni-chidori' no longer needs a stake.  It is leaning slightly, but towards the prevailing wind which is odd of it.

The witch hazels are still flowering.  I ought to go and look at them properly, if only it were slightly less cold and my nose did not run so much as soon as I step out of the house  That's one way in which coloured stems and attractive bark can be a better bet than flowers for winter gardens. At least the stems last all winter, whereas with some flowers if you catch a cold for the critical couple of weeks you could miss them.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

a parting visit

I went to Aldeburgh this morning to see a cousin.  Strictly speaking, he is my father's cousin.  He's a couple of years older than my father, and lived abroad when I was a child, so he wasn't around while I was growing up, but we have seen a bit of each other since discovering we had both settled in these parts.

I started trying to arrange to visit at the start of last month, sending an email apologising that it had been a long time and asking if I could nip up before Christmas, but got no reply.  I put this down to probable computer troubles rather than petulance or catastrophe, since he is a nice person who doesn't easily take offence, and if he had been seriously ill one of his friends would have told me.  Wouldn't they?  When I drew a blank on a couple of phone calls I began to wonder what I was supposed to do.  My cousin, after all, was a grown up who had been managing his own life since before I was born, and had a close network of friends that he saw far more regularly than he saw me.  On the other hand he was eighty-seven years old and lived alone since his wife died a couple of years ago.  I realised that although I've met some of his friends I did not know their surnames or telephone numbers.

My third phone call, a day or two before Christmas Eve, was answered by a live voice and not an answering machine.  My cousin, it turned out, had been in hospital having his other hip done.  I felt rather bad I had not known he was having a second hip replacement.  On the other hand, he hadn't told me.  Since I've known him he's never been one to make much of medical matters.  At the large lunch he hosted for his eightieth birthday he kept quiet about the fact that he was about to go into hospital for major heart surgery.

His nephew was about to arrive to stay with him when I rang, so I wished him a happy Christmas and speedy recuperation and promised to call him again in the New Year.  When I did he told me he was moving to Blackpool to be near his nephews.  That makes sense, since he has no children of his own.  He was hoping to move quite soon.  I arranged to visit last week, with the Systems Administrator, so that we could see him before he went, but we ended up cancelling because infecting an eighty-seven year old with a cold who had just come out of hospital and was about to move house seemed a bad idea, and neither of us was fit to drive that far anyway.

In the event I just squeezed in under the wire, since he was able to reschedule for today and he leaves this Friday.  I ended up going by myself, since the SA's cold relapsed yesterday afternoon to a state you definitely wouldn't inflict on anybody.  It was rather poignant, seeing my cousin sitting surrounded by boxes and bound for a place where he will know nobody, apart from his nephews. Still, he is a very sociable man, who already had lifetime membership of the U3A gifted to him by the Ipswich branch for helping set it up, and has just been enrolled in the north west and Liverpool geological societies by the members of the geology group he ran, so he won't be shy about meeting new people.  I felt sad as I bade him goodbye, though, not liking to kiss him because of my cold. It's a long way to Blackpool, and what are the chances of my getting myself there in reality when last year I didn't even make it as far as Aldeburgh?

Monday, 18 January 2016

garden reading

The temperature outside didn't rise above three degrees Celsius, and I spent the day sitting in front of the Aga and reading about Mediterranean gardens, while the cats played at being Gumby Cats, scratching to be let out of the kitchen, then scrabbling to be let in again.  I could have pruned the roses, but my nose was running delicately and persistently like a faulty tap, and a pervasive sense of aching stickiness told me that it would be the work of a madwoman to get chilled when I didn't have to.

My luck is holding with second hand gardening books.  A copy of Vivian Russell's Gardens of the Riviera, condition described as Good, set me back a whole £1.85 (plus p&p), and while it was about as tired as you'd expect a book over twenty years old to be, it was unmarked and there was no damage apart from a rip to the back cover, which in true philistine manner I have mended with sellotape.  I've already got a couple of her books, on Edith Wharton's and Monet's gardens. It is interesting, covering some of the same gardens as Charles Quest-Ritson but also some more recent creations, and gardens made by the French themselves, with more lavish illustrations.  I am still puzzling over one plant reference and can't work out whether there were ever really yellow and orange flowered cultivars of Clerondendron trichotomum, which I've only ever encountered with white flowers followed by extraordinary blue fruits, or whether she was hit by a moment of name blindness that wasn't picked up by the editor, and if so what did she mean?

It was not all fun and games gardening on the Riviera, apart from the fact that most people did it against the backdrop of gradually eroding fortunes and two world wars.  Winters sometimes plunged below freezing, which was more of  blow in a garden largely populated by tender species than it might be in north Essex where you expect them to, summers were baking, the Mistral was capable of scorching plants if not blowing the soil away, there wasn't always any soil to speak of, water supplies were off-grid and often unreliable, and the remorseless march of property development on the surrounding terrain led to views being lost, and parts of gardens in some case summarily requisitioned by the authorities.  The 1920s sounded pretty good, though, if you were rich and well-connected.  She paints a portrait of affluent garden lovers trundling in their Rolls Royces between an endless series of lunches, teas and plant swaps, waited upon by armies of servants.

A rather different account of gardening is given in Hugh Cavendish's book A time to plant: Life and Gardening at Holker.  There is a delightful garden at Holker Hall, on the northern edge of Morecombe Bay, which we visited once, too briefly, on the way to see friends in the Lake District. His book came out (again published by Frances Lincoln) in 2012, and is still in print costing a chunky twenty-five quid.  I'd been tracking it in a desultory way since publication, and the other day bagged a copy described as Used - Very Good for £1.50.  Apart from a title page inscription it was entirely unmarked, and so clean that if that if the recipient ever read they must have washed their hands first.

The early parts are more of a memoir than an account of the garden, and make painful reading in places, but it's illuminating to hear about the practical and financial issues associated with running an historic garden that needs visitor income to survive from somebody who actually does it.  Hugh Cavendish and his wife (who took all the photos for the book, and they are very good) waited several years after taking charge before they psyched themselves up to make any changes to the garden.  Very little of the planting had been designed to be of any interest in the summer months, the circulation didn't work for visitors, and neither of them liked the modestly historic Thomas Mawson design they had inherited.  Hugh Cavendish is fairly trenchant in his belief that gardens have to work for people and that if you want to generate a decent income stream from visitors you have to give them something to look at.  Ergo, a historically accurate garden that delights neither its owners nor the wider public whose financial support is needed for its survival has little point.

I only ended up reading Quest-Ritson, Cavendish and Russell back to back because I had a sore throat and didn't fancy spending the past few days outside in my own garden, but as each deals in large part with the transitory and changing nature of gardens, especially those based on large plant collections rather than the green architecture of clipped hedges and topiary, they turned out to be quite complementary.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

a trip to the pictures

We went to the cinema this afternoon, to a matinee showing of Star Wars : The Force Awakens at Harwich's splendid Electric Palace.  I'd been enthusing to friends the last time we saw them about how good the Electric Palace was, with its beautifully preserved Baroque architecture from before the Great War and big comfy red seats.  A couple of weeks ago they suggested we all go there and see Star Wars.

In truth, we hadn't been to the Electric Palace for a while, but an epic of good versus evil waging war in space ships across the galaxy sounded like the sort of film that would show to advantage on the big screen, instead of waiting until the DVD came out.  Harwich is not in the forefront of Star Wars screenings, since the UK release date was a month ago, but it's not often we see a film only four weeks after it's out.

There have been a few changes at the Electric Palace and you can now book tickets online.  You can also see the number of tickets remaining unsold, and since the total available never dipped anywhere near as low as a hundred and three of the prospective party had colds, our friends didn't actually book, in case on the day one or more of us weren't feeling up to going out.  In the event everybody had rallied sufficiently, and off we went.

The Electric Palace is not terribly big, and doesn't run to a lobby.  There's a little recess in front with a wooden ticket booth, protected by an iron grille when the Palace is shut, and the queue stands outside along the pavement.  When we arrived just before two for the two thirty showing there was no queue, and the grille was still closed.  Through it a couple of the neighbours were berating the woman in the ticket booth to keep the noise down.  Our friend thought that if you chose to live opposite a cinema that first opened its doors more than a century ago and is now a grade II* listed building you had better be prepared to put up with some noise from time to time.  I dare say Sunset Song next weekend will be quieter.

You used to have to be a member to see films, though membership was very cheap, but that seems to have gone by the by.  Nowadays they sometimes show live streaming from the National Theatre and the opera during the week, and I see they're doing big screen guides to a couple of art exhibitions.  There were already live music gigs when we went previously, and we saw John Kirkpatrick's Christmas show there one year.  It is a rather wonderful local effort.  The building is owned by a charitable trust, after being saved from demolition in the early 1970s, and the staff are largely volunteers.

Star Wars was great fun.  The auditorium was nowhere near full, but I suppose some fans will have been to see it in one of the local multiplexes sooner than a month after the release date.  The audience there were behaved impeccably, including the children.  I won't even try and review the film in case of inadvertent spoilers, but I confidently predict that after this we are going to be seeing a lot more of Daisy Ridley.

My only warning to anyone planning to visit The Electric Palace would be that at this time of the year it is not terribly warm.  I'm so used to thinking of cinemas and theatres as places where you don't want to wrap up too well lest you overheat during the performance, but there is no risk of that in the Electric Palace in the middle of winter.  I never removed my coat, was glad I hadn't changed out of my thermals before going out, and vaguely wished I'd worn a thicker sweater.  If I'd thought it through properly I'd have guessed it wasn't going to be hot in there, in a cinema erected to 1911 building standards and operated as a charity by volunteers, with an auditorium that was not even full.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

an indoors day

Today was piercingly beautiful, the sun shining in a calm, bright blue sky.  And cold.  The frost never melted in the corners where the sun didn't touch it.  If I'd been planning to garden that would have been a problem, but I only went outside to restock the bird table, and once more to top up the chickens' food and switch on the heaters in the conservatory and greenhouse.  I feel desperately profligate when I run the heaters, but fortunately it is forecast to start warming up again after Monday, with overnight temperatures back to five degrees by the end of next week.

Instead I spent the day in front of the Aga, reading about the English gardens made abroad by expatriates, and rich English people who couldn't stand our winters and moved south for the duration.  There are times when I can see their point.  The Iris unguicularis on the terrace are very nice, and I'm looking forward to the snowdrops and the hellebores, but just now Madeira might be even nicer.  The book is The English Garden Abroad by Charles Quest Ritson in a 1996 Penguin edition, which I picked up second hand on Amazon for a penny plus two eighty postage and packing.  It is a little shelf worn, but certainly clean enough to read without feeling the compulsion to wash your hands afterwards.

The Preface contains an unexpected and forthright swipe at the British Library for charging so much to reproduce their images that the book does not contain all the illustrations he would have liked.  I don't know how much the British Library charges, and it's a tricky question how much it ought to.  On the one hand, it is presumably under pressure to contribute as much as possible to its running costs.  On the other hand, it is a national repository of knowledge whose contents ought to be available to works of scholarship in areas of niche interest at prices they can afford.

Amazon had quite a few copies of The English Garden Abroad on offer for very modest sums.  A text that's over twenty years old, dealing with gardens many of which no longer exist, or only exist in reduced and degraded form, or are not open to the public, without any big shiny photographs by famous garden photographers, it is most definitely not a coffee table book.  It's still worth reading if you're interested in that sort of thing, since so far as I know there isn't anything more recent or better researched on the subject.

Another of his books, Ninfa : the most romantic garden in the world, is more in the coffee table bracket, published only in 2009 by Frances Lincoln.  They do quite a lot of gardening books, aimed at a more general readership but with authors who know what they're talking about, and lavish illustrations.  I missed this one when it came out, and wanted a copy after reading a magazine article about Ninfa.  Alas, by then it was out of print and second hand copies were being offered on Amazon for north of a hundred quid and rising.  It was not to be had cheaper from Alibris, or Abe Books, or the specialist garden book dealer near Bristol I've used in the past, and I couldn't find an alternative English language book on Ninfa that I liked the sound of.

But part of the fun of buying second hand books lies in the chase, since I could never read all the books I'd enjoy if only I did read them, even if I did nothing else for the rest of my life.  Once a copy bobbed up on Amazon for over forty pounds, and I took a deep breath and decided I still didn't want the book that badly, but if one in acceptable condition came up for thirty then I'd have it. Finally, after several years' stalking, on the eleventh of January I spotted an ex library book for £29.95 with Amazon Prime delivery.  Reader, I bought it.  The top edge of the cover is a little saggy, it has the ISBN number on the spine, and the front page is damaged where the wallet for holding the library card was ripped out, but apart from that it's a clean copy.  Not collectable, but eminently readable.  The cheapest used one is now up at £185 while the new ones still lurking in warehouses around the world would set me back £799.

I have told the Systems Administrator to be careful disposing of my garden books if I should suddenly die, as some of them could be quite valuable, but the SA says the same thing about his vast collection of railway books.

Friday, 15 January 2016

trouble at mill

Part of the fun of a holiday is planning it.  Or at least, part of the fun of our sort of holiday.  One of the Systems Administrator's friends disappeared to Thailand (or perhaps it was Vietnam) at practically no notice having got a deal so cheap he said it would be rude to refuse it.  He had always been big on spontaneity and economy, so that made him very happy.  Our holidays tend to be lined up well in advance, what with the need to fond somebody reliable who can look after the cats and the hens and won't kill more than one or two of my pots of plants through over or under watering, who doesn't worry about being left with the bees, or have an insane suburban urge to prune my shrubs into neat buns while I'm away.

By this stage of the year I'm starting to narrow down on one or two areas and make lists of possible things to do and places to visit, to check whether there's enough besides that one desirable garden or steam railway to keep us happy for a week.  Anything we might like goes on, from museums and churches to landmark stretches of coastline or notable sections of canal, and the list is roughly organised according to geographical proximity and opening time. We both flag the things we really, really want to see.  Once we're there we plan around the weather, and we always end up discovering extra places we hadn't heard of until we got there.

We have not yet ended up staying in a place where after the fourth day we were scraping the barrel for things to do, or managed to miss visiting something we badly wanted to see after suddenly realising on Thursday that it was only open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  We have become pretty good at spotting those rural main roads that have four digits after the A, with a market town every fifteen miles and no bypasses, so that gardens and museums that look quite close on a large scale map turn out to be a tedious hour or more's drive apart.

In fact that would be my key piece of advice to everybody responsible for a VisitCounty website, not that they will be reading my blog.  Put a map in.  Put lots of maps, especially when your county is the size of Yorkshire.  Do not assume that your potential visitors from the other end of the country, let alone from abroad, will have the faintest idea whether Market Dumpling is ten or fifty miles from Mill Town.

It was partly the thought of mills that led us to start thinking about Lancashire and west Yorkshire. There's a great scoop of countryside inland and north of Blackpool, that neither of us know at all. There's the Keighley light railway, no major gardens but some interesting smaller ones, beautiful rural scenery, and quite a lot of industrial heritage and Victorian civic architecture.  Queen Street Mill and Helmshore Mills Textile Museum still have their machines in working order.  Then I heard a couple of days ago on the radio that Lancashire council was considering closing them, to save money.  An article on the Museums Association website confirmed the story, and today Jonathan Jones is warning in the Guardian of an emerging north south divide in heritage.

I was so cross that I signed the online petition to save them, though I am afraid it is gathering signatures only very slowly.  I know that money is desperately tight for councils, but it seems absolutely bonkers that the mills should be closed.  People love heritage.  The National Trust has over four million members.  London has found seventy million quid down the back of the sofa to build Joanna Lumley's silly bridge, and meanwhile Lancashire county council wants to shut five museums that are immensely relevant to the people in Lancashire whose grandparents worked in the cotton industry, never mind southern would-be tourists like me, to save a little over a million in the financial year 2017-18.

The other region I was plotting on my spreadsheet for this year's holiday was West Sussex.  Perhaps we had better go there instead.  Or Bath.  Jonathan Jones made Bath sound very inviting.  North-south divide indeed.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

lecture on the lunar men

I went this morning to a lecture about the art of the Lunar Society, at the Colchester branch of NADFAS.  I am not a member, but several people on the music society committee are, and when I first met them I couldn't understand why they were all so keen on flower arranging, until I worked out that NADFAS, the national association of decorative and fine art societies, is not the same thing at all as NAFAS, the body responsible for all those strange floral constructions at Chelsea.

I like the Lunar Men.  I've read Jenny Uglow's book and been to the Wedgwood museum and seen the film Amazing Grace and read about the voyages of Joseph Banks and everything, so a friend kindly agreed to sign me in today.  In fact, she is all for my putting my name down to join.  There is a waiting list, which is apparently getting longer as the members are not dying off at the rate that they did.  It costs five pounds to go on the waiting list, refundable against your first year's subscription, so perhaps I should, on the basis that by the time I rise to the top of the list I might have time to go to a monthly art lecture.

The talk centred around the work of Joseph Wright of Derby, the English Midlands' answer to Caravaggio in his use of chiaroscuro.  It was quite entertaining seeing images of some of his paintings of industrial forges alongside renaissance religious works employing the same effects of light, though predating them by about two hundred years.  The renaissance was slow in getting to the Midlands.  Contrary to popular legend James Watt did not invent the steam engine, but he did make it considerably more efficient.  Richard Arkwright was a bombastic and rude man whom none of the lunar men liked, but they testified in his defence anyway when his patent for the spinning jenny came under attack.

I couldn't have gardened if I hadn't been going to a lecture.  It rained and was very cold all day, and by this afternoon it was blowing half a gale and I was feeling pretty much like a swamp in which germs had to live.  I'm not sure that colds that don't quite come out aren't more nerve racking than those that erupt at once in a great explosion of snot.  Tottering around with a slightly sore throat feeling faintly sticky and trying not to breathe on people leaves one wondering if it's all about to get much worse in a day or two.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

today I have been mainly indoors

We are belatedly getting a touch of winter.  Today was cold, and I didn't go outside except to scuttle from one building to another.  The Systems Administrator went out to cut wood, and came back in with aching sinuses.

I was in Colchester for my six weekly haircut.  Happy are those who can carry off shoulder length hair, and can get away with a six monthly tidy of their split ends.  When I was young and had longish hair I could kid myself I looked like a Burne Jones angel, but nowadays I look more like Gandalf if I let my hair get anywhere near my collar.  A short crop it has to be, and a great deal of credit is due to my hairdresser who can make a short cut just about last six weeks without the aid of blow drying or any styling products whatsoever in the intervening period.  Other, lesser hairdressers have suggested that such a thing was not possible, but Naomi is made of sterner stuff, and by the time I ambled through her doors this morning I looked vaguely fluffy, but not entirely like a chrysanthemum*.

While I was in town I met a friend for coffee.  We tried a newish cafe which has sprung up in the High Street.  She said it opened six months ago, though I never noticed it when I was in Colchester for Christmas shopping.  The decor was shabby industrial chic, with exposed metal tracks for the wiring and galvanised lamp shades, and the music was rather loud.  My friend asked the waitress if it could be turned down at all, but the waitress looked doubtful and said that it had to be at a certain volume for breakfast.  Er, why?  Who do they think comes into the sort of cafe that charges nearly three pounds for coffee and over four pounds for granola, at eleven o'clock on a Wednesday morning on Colchester High Street?  Retired people, that's who.  I was about the youngest customer there, and the music didn't do anything for me.

I told the SA about the music when I got home, and the SA asked whether the new cafe was an independent or part of a chain.  I had to admit I didn't know: I hadn't seen the name before but that proved nothing.  I hadn't heard of Cote Restaurants until I went to the Covent Garden one with a friend last September, and there are dozens of them.  If it was an independent and the staff couldn't control the music then it was dead, opined the SA.

I shall have to go outside tomorrow, since a piece of glass has fallen out of the greenhouse roof and the forecast is for frost tomorrow night.  The Telegraph still emails me twice daily, even though I don't subscribe any more, and I wasted one of my free clicks on the alarming headline Lows of minus 15 forecast as severe warnings issued for snow, but it turned out that the minus fifteen applied to the highlands of Scotland.  I don't think that counts.  They record frosts there every month of the year, except June.

* PG Wodehouse  Why don't you get a haircut; you look like a chrysathemum.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


I spent today sitting by the Aga, poring over seed catalogues.  About half way through Sunday's concert a nasty feeling of clamminess and intimations of aching limbs and a sore throat came over me, the warning signs of an impending cold.  The Systems Administrator has already got one, and has been stomping around with blocked sinuses for the past week.  After last winter the thought of catching a cold, followed by another cold and then another, was almost too much to bear.

The SA said that there was no reason why even if I had one cold I should have three or four.  I thought it all boded ill, and tottered off early to bed on Sunday evening, overcome by intense, eye-aching sleepiness.  By the morning I ached all over, and apologetically rang to defer our planned visit to a relative in Aldeburgh who has just had his second hip replaced.  I didn't feel fit to drive on the A12, and it seemed wrong to expose my cousin to our germs while he was recovering from orthopaedic surgery.

By now I feel better than I have since Sunday evening.  Perhaps that means it was never going to develop into a full-blown cold, or maybe being able to take it easy and keep warm for two days was enough to halt its progression.  If I'd had to struggle into an office on the train or spend two days standing in the cold at the plant centre things might have been different.  There's no way of telling.  I am completely paranoid when it comes to colds.  They may be described as 'only a cold' to differentiate them from flu, and it is true that people die of flu whereas I am not going to die of a cold.  But they are vile, and once you get into a run of them you can lose weeks of your life to totally non-productive snivelling.

I thought that looking at the seed catalogues while I was feeling unwell might help curb my natural over-enthusiasm, and avoid ending up choosing approximately three times as many packets as I had the space or time to sow or prick out.  It worked, up to a point.  Some editing is still going to be needed before I place any orders.

Meanwhile hope springs eternal.  The hens laid another egg today.

Monday, 11 January 2016

a change of tactics

I have still not caught any rabbits, though I did get a second mouse in the greenhouse.  Exasperated with waiting for them to walk into my traps in the back garden, and finding a large, neat pile of rabbit pellets in the drive by the Eleagnus hedge, I set one trap in the base of the hedge and the other on the far side, with an extra carrot lying a few inches outside each door to try and tempt the bunnies in.

The Systems Administrator checked the traps this morning on the way to open the gate, and appeared mid morning saying that the rabbits were active because there was a huge pile of droppings that hadn't been there first thing.  I went outside to inspect the evidence, and thought it was the same pile I saw earlier in the week, but honestly one heap of rabbit crap does look much like another.  The SA claimed to have heard the rabbits rustling around inside the hedge, and suggested that perhaps they did not eat carrots.  Surely they do?  It is ingrained in English lore that rabbits love them.

It is true that the pest controller who lent me the traps was non-committal about what I should put in them.  I partly chose carrots because I thought they would remain edible for longer.  If I use any kind of salad leaf I'll be out there changing the bait twice daily.  The Systems Administrator said perhaps we should use the commercial food that people feed to their pet rabbits, and that there were bound to be forums about it.  I dare say there are, though whether they are very nice is another matter.

Meanwhile spring must be nearly here.  One of the hens laid an egg.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

choose your instrument

Today I squelched my way on around the back garden, spreading my last three bags of soggy mushroom compost on the ditch bed, and pulling up an enormous number of stems of ivy.  The ivy lurks at the perimeter, outside the rabbit fence, and sends invading tentacles in through the netting.  They pull up in a highly satisfying manner, provided they aren't left so long that they thicken beyond snapping size and root along their length, but it requires a degree of contortion to wriggle in among the shrubs to reach them without trampling too badly on the emerging snowdrops.

I had to drag myself away from the delights of the garden an hour earlier than usual to go to the music society's concert.  A young flute and harp duo were playing in the village hall.  Not our village, you understand, which doesn't run to anything as exotic as a music society, but one I borrow for social purposes.

The full blown concert harp is an impressive instrument, and its owner told us a little about it in the second half, before performing some Faure.  It has seven foot pedals, used to alter the tuning, which are connected by rods running inside the post to a mechanism inside the bridge across the top which contains over two thousand moving parts.  It is extremely heavy, she moves it herself, it will fit in a large estate car but not on the train.  There are only two manufacturers of classical harps in the world, in Germany and Chicago, though there are a few UK manufacturers of Celtic harps, smaller and lacking foot pedals, which is what everybody starts learning on.

I suppose you take up playing the harp because you like it.  She began lessons when she was six.  It's in the lap of the gods, which instrument is going to seize a musician's imagination and become their life's work, but the gods gift some people an easier life than others.  Suppose they gave you a passion for the clarinet, a portable and versatile instrument, capable of being carried around in a small bag and handy for a bit of jazz or klezmer on the side.  Or the violin, portable and allowing you to augment your income playing in the string section on pop records.  But no, some are gifted with a passion for the harp, or the double bass.

If you play the piano you aren't usually expected to bring one with you, though the music society's next visitor is doing just that, importing his own 1828 Georgian piano in a special temperature controlled van.  The flip side is that your hosts have to provide one, so you probably end up playing on some terrible instruments, and your opportunities are constrained by whether they can afford a piano.  When the music society committee is planning the year's programme one of the factors taken into account is whether or not we'll need to hire one.  There again, if you opt for a chamber music career with your violin most organisers aren't brave enough to programme an entire evening of solo Bach partitas, so they are going to have to stump up for piano accompaniment or book an entire quartet.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

good, rain later

The morning started so promisingly.  It was dry and not windy, and I woke up usefully early and was instantly alert and ready to leap out of bed and start the day.  I recently clicked on a link in one of the news websites to a sleep habits survey run by a German university, and saw as I scrolled down the page that I couldn't possibly fill it in, because it made no allowance for seasonality.  In the depths of winter, as sunrise creeps towards eight o'clock, my natural waking time shifts forward, to eight or later.  By the time I've showered, breakfasted, fed the cats, let the hens out and opened the rabbit gate, and tidied whatever mess we left in the kitchen the night before, it can be half past nine.  That's nearly a quarter of the daylight already gone.  During the longest days of summer I often wake by half past six.

This morning I was ready to hit Waitrose by half past eight, and out in the garden by ten thirty after buying enough groceries to keep us going without having to shop again for a week.  The sun shone, the air was calm, the forecast was for seven days without rain.  I was going to get things done now, for sure.  By lunchtime I'd spread another five bags of mushroom compost on the ditch bed and I was on a roll.

I asked the Systems Administrator whether it was likely to rain over lunch as a matter of form.  The forecast had definitely not said rain.  The SA said he did not know but would look at the rain radar, and reappeared in the kitchen a couple of minutes later saying that it was highly likely to rain in the next half hour, so I had to go back down to the bottom of the garden to retrieve my tablet, which was plumbed into my garden radio so that I could listen to the film review programme podcast while muck spreading.

It started raining about ten minutes later, not just a few drops (though they wouldn't have done the tablet any good) but proper hard squalls against the windows.  I went back out after lunch, sans tablet, and put up with the odd rain flurries for the rest of the afternoon until it got so gloomy that by quarter to four I couldn't see what I was doing.

Addendum  I caught another mouse in the greenhouse in the electric zapper.  I knew there'd been one, because several stems of a perennial wallflower that blew off the staging got eaten, and then the tops some geranium seedlings I'd potted up were gnawed to shiny stumps.  When I was watering in there a couple of days ago something scuttled across the floor among the pots of overwintering tender perennials, moving too fast to be a bird.  I put one of the traps down on the floor, trying to choose a dry spot where it wouldn't be dripped on when it rained, since the roof along the ridge line is not so waterproof as it was.  Another mouse done gone.  I have nothing personal against mice, but there are lots of other places they could live besides in my greenhouse, and lots of other things they could eat besides my pots of geraniums and the wallflower I bought at the Great Dixter plant fair.

Friday, 8 January 2016

in the garden

I used up the last two bags of mushroom compost on the ditch bed, and rang the local garden centre to find out whether they had reopened yet after the New Year break.  Yes, said the voice on the phone, they were open and did have heaps of mushroom compost.  I know who you are, said the voice, you're the one with the red car.  True, and outside landscapers buying by the truck load they probably don't have many customers for mushroom compost at this time of the year.  Maybe eventually they'll offer to let me have the bulk rate as a frequent purchaser.  It's not my fault I can only fit eight bags at a time in the car.

I nipped round before lunch, and saw that they had had a fresh delivery of compost since the last time I was there, proof perhaps that landscapers really are buying it.  The great heap was wet and very squelchy, and if I were not such a keen gardener I would not have wanted to have anything to do with it.  After filling my first bag I gave up with trying to measure it to the last litre using their bottomless 30 litre bucket, because it was so wet it wouldn't shake through the hole at the bottom, and just used the first bag as a guide to how full the others ought to be.  Nobody came over to object.

After lunch I thought I'd better let the chickens out, as they hadn't been out for a while.  The last time I opened their pop hole it was a grey and horrible day, and they simply stood in the run looking at me, until I gave up and shut it again so that I could go away and get on with some work without having to worry about them.  If they didn't feel that strongly about coming out of their run I thought they might as well stay in it.  Today they were a little hesitant to come out, but once one did the other two followed, and after nibbling at the grass by their house and a brief sojourn on the terrace they came and fussed around the gravel with me while I weeded.

There is an extremely good form of iris growing in the gravel.  I think it is Iris florentina, or at least was sold to me as that, the original source of orris root.  I'm bound to admit I didn't notice its roots smelling of violets, but it was a cold day and I was only weeding round them, not chopping them up.  The iris is a very good doer in extremely poor soil, and makes dense mats of rhizomes as described in the Wikipedia entry for Iris florentina.  Unfortunately a creeping grass has made its way among them.  I dug the iris up a few years ago, replanted some elsewhere in the gravel, dug over the original site exhaustively looking for grass roots, and put the rest of the iris back.  The grass returned, as creeping grasses tend to do.  They always send the odd root deep underground, and it's almost impossible to find all of them.  I am reluctant to keep digging the iris up, so I think I'll just have to pull out each bit of grass as I see it, hoping to weaken it, and live with it.  In the meantime I have two patches of iris when I had one before, and it's a very nice plant.

Thursday, 7 January 2016


This morning was earmarked for writing up the music society committee minutes and my final set of beekeepers' accounts, so I didn't mind that it poured with rain until lunchtime and then blew half a gale for the afternoon, apart from the fact that the lawn is quite soggy enough as it is, and the wind brought another load of dead, leathery, everlasting leaves out of the Eleagnus hedge and littering across the gravel, ready for me to spend half a day picking them out from among the thrift and Eryngium with my fingertips.

As I went through my notes of yesterday's meeting I discovered another complicating factor for our next season's programme, that I'd forgotten about by the time I got home, which is that we will not be able to use the village hall at all during November because it will be needed for amateur dramatics.  The discussion had covered all the right points, just not in the right order, as tends to happen in our meetings.  My technique nowadays is to start by writing out all the agenda item headings, then slot each part of the discussion under the relevant heading.  The result is not a chronologically accurate account of the proceedings, but does help somebody reading it in two or three month's time make some sense of what we were talking about, whereas a literal transcription would at times read more like an early experiment in stream of consciousness by Virginia Woolf.

The beekeepers' accounts came together remarkably easily, unless I get a rude shock when the person inspecting the books has had time to look at them.  I have never really felt comfortable with the balance sheet layout adopted by the beekeepers, which is not the same as the one used by FTSE 100 companies.  In fact, the first time I had to prepare a balance sheet I simply cribbed what the previous treasurer had done, shifting the previous year to the left and slavishly copying the relevant information from the current year.  The following year, despite all my nagging to get it paid in before Christmas, we had a cheque outstanding at the year end and I had to work out how to do accruals, and somebody paid a subscription for the following year in advance.  I never intuitively understood what I was doing, but it passed muster with the auditor and the County treasurer.

This year was easy, with just one measly uncleared expenses cheque for £8.70 (which the person concerned made an inordinate song and dance about claiming) outstanding at the year end, and it all fell into place.  I think.  The County Treasurer's comment on my accounts last year was At least yours add up.

Meanwhile another challenge looms on the horizon, as I am going to have to learn how to do links from the music society's website.  The trouble with experimenting with their website is that when you press Apply to site, whatever you have done is there for all to see.  It would be nice if only there was an offline facility where I could fiddle about in private until I got the hang of it.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

planning the next concert season

I have just got in from a music society committee meeting.  Scheduling a series of five concerts in rural Suffolk can be almost as complex as a Nato military training exercise.

The seating capacity of the church is greater than that of the village hall, so we need to hold concerts by the most expensive and famous acts for which we hope and need to sell lots of extra tickets over and beyond our season tickets in the church, to make room for everybody.  And the church is more atmospheric and beautiful than the hall.

We can no longer have concerts on a Friday evening in either of our traditional venues, since there is now choir practice in the church while the village hall has a ballet class that isn't over in time for the musicians to run through beforehand and for us to set out the chairs.

We would rather use the hall than the church in the depths of winter because of the cost and difficulty of heating the church.  It's bad enough for the audience sitting there swaddled in their coats for the entire concert, but worse for the musicians trying to play their instruments with icy fingers.

Piano hire costs more on a Sunday.

Opinions among the committee members run strongly in both directions as to whether it is OK to have the same group the day after they have performed for the Ipswich music society, if they play a completely different programme.

A small music society in rural Suffolk has to fit in with the touring schedule of internationally famous chamber musicians rather than the other way round.

It is not safe to book an act for an afternoon performance following on from a morning appearance in London earlier on the same day, what with the risk of train failures, weekend engineering works, and traffic jams on the A12.

There is a financial limit to how many top class acts we can afford in any one season.  That limit is one.

The risk of weather disruption is greatest in January and February so we should avoid booking the most expensive and famous performers in those months.

It is not practicable to hold a concert in the church on a Saturday evening because everything including the stage, which is extremely heavy, would have to be cleared away that same evening ready for the Sunday service.

So in an ideal world the most expensive and famous musicians would all be available for Sunday afternoon performances in the church during October, November and March, leaving us to schedule the less expensive and not so famous performers for January and February in the cosier surroundings of the village hall.

The world is not ideal.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

garden club

I have joined a gardening society.  It might seem odd that I've not done so before, given how keen I am on gardening.  I've been an RHS member for over a quarter of a century, have at various times belonged to the Essex Gardens Trust and the Hardy Plant Society, and am currently enrolled in Plant Heritage, but tonight I filled out my form and handed over my twelve quid to become a member of a garden club.  At the next meeting they'll have a dinky little card ready for me on the desk on the way in, with the year's events listed.

Our village is so small and so spread out it doesn't run to a gardening society.  I think there's conversational French and a book club in the village hall, which is about two miles from us and is on a main road with parking for three cars.  If I wanted a gardening society I was going to have to travel, on which basis I was free to join any garden club within reasonable distance that I liked the look of.  Which is how I have ended up with one on the opposite side of Colchester, drawn by the combined lure of a good programme and the fact that I already know several people there, some via Plant Heritage and some from my Writtle days.

I knew the programme was good even before getting my member's card, because it is on the internet, but with my membership form I was given a separate piece of paper with the year's visits listed on it.  Aha, secret member's only visits, not on the internet.  There is no coach trip like last year's one to Great Dixter, but there are several outings lined up to gardens in East Anglia, some of which tie up with the lectures, which seems a good idea.  So at the start of April we're due to hear somebody talk about his fritillaries and small bulbs, and then later in the month we can go and look at them in his garden.

Tonight's talk was by somebody who worked for eight years as nursery manager at one of the local growers who exhibit at the RHS shows, including Chelsea, and so was responsible for bringing the plants to show condition, as well as helping set up the stands.  It was fascinating and very funny. Her husband's high point came when she was able to get him a pass for press day and Joanna Lumley spoke to him.  One of her lows was utterly failing to recognise Russian oligarch Evgeny Lebedev and grasp that he really did want to buy the entire contents of their Chelsea stand.  It was a blow to both parties when his PA appeared after the show had closed on Saturday with a fist full of fifty pound notes and they had already flogged the contents to the public.

Refreshments after the talk turned out to be free, and instead of biscuits there was tea loaf made by one of the committee members and with the fruit soaked in Early Grey tea.  Really, what's not to like?

Monday, 4 January 2016

tulips and trellis

I was taken aback to discover another box of last year's tulips in the garage, just as I thought I had finished with tulips.  They were labelled 'Concerto' and after a moment's confusion as to why they weren't in the box with the others I remembered they are a relatively low growing, early, soft cream variety that I had on pots on the terrace (or patio) and meant to reuse in one of the beds in the back garden.  Which means I should have potted them up last November ready for planting out this spring as soon as I can see what else is coming up in that bed.

They appear to be in perfectly good nick, as were the red and orange ones I've been planting in the dahlia bed over the past couple of days, so I had better pot them up and hope they start growing extremely fast so that they'll be ready to go out before everything else in the bed is too far advanced.  This is where the list could have come in handy, if I'd entered Pot tulip 'Concerto' as a separate entry instead of a generic comment on tulips then I'd have known they were there.

It took a bit more than ten minutes to sort out the small patch of flower bed at the end of the dahlia bed by the greenhouse, behind my laboriously home made trellis.  The trellis consists of two uprights, scrounged from the plant centre when they demolished a pergola, and no more than five horizontal battens, if that many, and it took me absolutely hours to make, not being a great carpenter.  A red rambling rose and an amber honeysuckle had just got going on it nicely when the uprights rotted through at the base, and the Systems Administrator had to come to my aid with a power saw and some Met Posts.

After the trellis was mended everything went on happily for another couple of years, until the honeysuckle mysteriously died back.  I trimmed out all the dead stems last autumn, so today I mulched the bast with mushroom compost and fed it with fish, blood and bone, and will see if it sprouts again or has not merely died back but died absolutely.  I can't see why it should die when the rose is doing perfectly well and made several new shoots last year, but light soil at the top of a retaining wall is not what one would recommend for honeysuckle, so perhaps it found conditions too mere.  Weeding the minuscule area took longer than I was anticipating because some irritating bits of ivy had seeded into the corners and were reluctant to be rooted out.

After last night's rain the back garden is so sodden that the lawn squelches audibly when you walk across it, so I left the large pile of branches dragged out of the wood over the New Year where they were on the grass for another day and confined my activities to the front garden, working my way further up the long bed with mushroom compost, fish blood and bone and Strulch.  Our Ginger came to see what I was doing, but did not like the look of the manure, and howled at me from the drive before stomping off.

Addendum  We are still finding Christmas tree needles everywhere.  There was a puddle of them by the sink, and I keep having to pick odd ones out of my socks.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

things to do

The rain held off just long enough for me to plant my last few tulip bulbs, scatter blood, fish and bone along the dahlia bed and apply a new topping of Strulch, then I could delete Tidy dahlia bed and plant tulips from my list of Things to do.  I read an article in the newspaper by a life management guru who said that if you insisted on having a list then it should be a maximum of five items long.  In that case I am doing it wrong, since mine currently has 87 things on it.

I don't worry too much about the total, having no illusion that everything on the list is ever going to get done anyway.  And the items on it are of wildly different sizes and complexity.  In at number 33 is Weed little bit of dahlia bed outside greenhouse.  That would take about two minutes, or maybe ten or even fifteen if I also mulched it with mushroom compost and Strulch.  In fact I did weed most of it one afternoon when I was keeping an eye on the chickens, but they wandered off before I could finish the job, as they did in the case of number 47, Weed gravel where moved logs. Quite a few tasks on the list are largely or partly done, but for some reason I haven't finished them to a standard where I feel they are definitively Done and can be ticked off.

Some were huge jobs to begin with.  Clear brambles in meadow around wildlife pond has absorbed several days' work and there's still at least another couple required to finish it.  Cut lawn edges is a more or less ongoing project, since by the time I've got to the end it's normally time to start again at the beginning.  I would have hoped that for a few weeks during winter they'd all be trim, but the weather has been so mild that the grass has never stopped growing.

The list was originally compiled as a sort of scoping exercise.  I took a mental walk around the garden, tried to remember what outstanding domestic admin there was, considered anything I needed for the forthcoming beekeeping season, ran a mental tally of which friends and relations I hadn't seen for too long, and wrote it all down.  Anything urgent at that point got done.  Now when new Things to do crop up they go at the end of the list, where they are soon crossed off again if urgent or maybe stay for a while if they seem less urgent or less appealing than other ongoing projects.  The length of the list never drops below about 80, and never rises much above 105.

It's a system, and it works for me, though I have never seen it advocated by any lifestyle guru.  I don't mind being reminded that the quantity of things I could usefully do is far greater than the number of things I am actually going to do.  I know that anyway.  I find the list a handy memory jogger, that I will need to prune the vine before the end of winter (so I had better get on with it), or that I meant to move a gentian that has failed to flourish to a position with more light to see if it does better, or that I need to write up the beekeepers' accounts, or will have to buy fence posts before I can mend the fence in the meadow.  Ticking off a big job gives a sense of satisfaction, as does deleting anything in the top 30 because they've been there the longest.

Today while it was raining I put the wax foundation in the last of some brood frames I made up months ago.  Without the list I might not even have remembered that they were sitting in the spare room waiting to be done, since it's very easy not to think about beehive frames until the point in the season where you need some urgently and realise you've run out.  That was number 42 on the list, which was about right since I had no immediate need for the finished frames, but will probably want them at some point between April and August.

Some jobs disappear of their own accord if left for long enough, and others get deleted because having thought I wanted to do them, on mature reflection I decide I don't.  Getting hold of a photograph of myself for the beekeepers' website that was not totally and utterly hideous fell into the first category, since I'm stepping down from the committee so they no longer need a photo. Making wooden tripods for a couple of the shrub roses fell into the second, since once I'd looked at them long and hard I decided I would simply prune them more severely.

Completionists would find the whole system infuriating.